LeBron James gave the Denver Nuggets their best shot on Monday. This was not enough.
Powered by a history-making Nikola Jokic triple-double, the Nuggets rallied for a 113–111 victory and swept the Los Angeles Lakers 4–0 in the Western Conference Finals. The win continued a remarkable postseason run by the Nuggets, securing their first trip to the NBA Finals. He did so while overcoming the best post-season effort by one of the game’s all-time greats.
James started the game on fire, scoring 21 points in the first quarter as the Lakers took a 34–26 lead. He shot 7 of 9 from the field, including 4 of 4 attempts from 3-point distance. A lob attempt from beyond the 3-point arc slid through the net for the basket in a sign of things to come.
The bucket capped off a personal 8–0 run by James to give the Lakers a 23–15 lead. He stayed hot the entire half, and did not leave the game until taking an early break at the locker with 4.3 seconds remaining in the half. The Lakers led 73–58 at the break, powered by James’ 31 first-half points.
nuggets bounce back
But the Nuggets were not surprised. He shot 50% from the field in the first half, despite a 15-point deficit. They opened the third quarter with a 9–2 run to force a Lakers timeout. A Kentavius Caldwell-Pope layup 7:21 into the third capped a 24–8 Nuggets run to give them their first lead of the game at 82–81. James, who played all but 4.3 seconds of the game, was scoreless during a Denver rally.
James got back on the scoreboard with a floater with 2:47 remaining. But a potential Los Angeles blowout was shifted in Denver’s favor as the Nuggets rode a 36–16 third quarter lead to take a 94–89 lead in the fourth quarter.
Jokic made history in the process. He finished third with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his 8th triple-double of the playoffs. In the process, he broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles in a season.
Denver held their lead for most of the fourth quarter. But an offensive foul on Jokic on consecutive possessions led to back-to-back buckets by the Lakers with an Anthony Davis dunk to tie it at 102–102 with 4:59 remaining.
From there, the game remained a back-and-forth battle until the final minutes. But as they have done all post-season, the Nuggets made big plays going forward. A Jokic layup with 51.1 seconds remaining put Denver ahead 113–11. The Lakers had two chances to respond, but failed to come up with another bucket.
On the Lakers’ next possession, James launched a jumper in desperation from the baseline that hit the edge of the backboard as the shot clock expired. Given another chance to tie with four seconds remaining, the Lakers again looked to James. This time he attacked the basket, where he was met by a double team from Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray. Gordon, who had contested James’ previous miss, blocked the layup attempt and the game ended.
The Nuggets were in the NBA Finals. The Lakers saw a midseason turnaround and an unexpected playoff run from play-in against an improved Denver team.